McAdams’s success was based upon more than his youthful, earnest Eagle Scout appearance and his clever sense of humor. His campaign is a model for the type of politics that Utahns want and to which they respond favorably. McAdams’ campaign and message were positive, civil, collaborative, emphasized policy processes rather than predetermined solutions and were pragmatic and moderate.
McAdams did not campaign on failures, real or perceived, of county government and its officials. He did not criticize the past; he described a positive vision for the future. He did not put others down; he acknowledged the successes of others. He did not personalize and demonize; he expressed respect in word and actions. He did not claim to have all the answers; he claimed the role of facilitator and collaborator. He did not assert the best answer; he proposed cooperation with others to find the best answers. His campaign was based upon old fashioned Utah notions like compromise does not mean surrender; like bipartisanship is not treason, and like people really do vote for the “man” and not the party. And voters judged that he was right.
I am convinced that McAdams ran the type of campaign and presented himself in a manner that Utah voters (on the right and on the left, Mormon and non-Mormon, native and newcomer, urban and rural) want and expect from their leaders and campaigns. Cynics will say that negativity, extremism and campaigns based upon narrow special interests have been successful in the past and will continue to be into the future. Unfortunately there is some truth to this point of view. These negative types of campaigns have been successful, not because of value of the approaches but, because Utah voters have been sufficiently satisfied and have not expected or demanded more of their politicians.
I have focused on the style and substance of McAdams because more voters vote for this contest than almost any other in the state. It is a great case, as well, because the results of the election went dramatically against the conventional wisdom and the polls. This demonstrates the effectiveness and widespread appeal and support for this type of campaign among Utahns. To be fair to other candidates, many positive campaigns were waged across the state. The problem is there were not enough and, as we know, several name calling, finger pointing, epithet uttering campaigns never came close to this standard.
We are fortunate as we end this long political season to have had McAdams set a high standard of civility and moderation. We are fortunate that we, Utah voters, have finally come to recognize and reward such campaigns and candidates at a time when negativity and hostility prevails in so many places. Let’s don’t forget these lessons and let’s hold ourselves, our parties and our candidates to these standards from which we, collectively, may easily stray.
Scott O. Konopasek is a consultant to local government and a former election official. He is a doctoral candidate in Political Science at the University of Utah.